Arrowtown, a quaint and beautiful historic gold mining village, sits about 20 minutes from it’s much more famous big brother, Queenstown. On first glance at the town centre, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re looking at a Wild West film set. Arrowtown has largely preserved the historic (a relative term if you’re used to castles and ruins) “Born of Gold” look of the 1860s, when gold was first discovered on the Arrow River.
I lived in Queenstown for around 12 years, with a few of those years spent living in Arrowtown. For locals it can feel like a commuter suburb, but visitors find a very different (and refreshing) world compared to the slickness of Queenstown.
Arrowtown is a scenic 20 minute drive from Queenstown. There are 2 roads to choose from. For the best views, I prefer the Arthur’s Point route. If you have the time, check out the Coronet Peak Lookout for an incredible photo opportunity. If you drive a little further up to Skippers Saddle you will have a glimpse at Long Gully, the entrance to Skippers Canyon. Don’t go any further as this is one of the only roads in NZ where your rental car is not insured. In winter, use extra care, and follow any instructions posted at the bottom of the hill. It’s all too easy to slide into a ditch, or worse. If slippery roads are a concern, the Lake Hayes road is easier in winter, but you will still want to be careful.
The best driving option is to get there one way, and back the other. Everybody loves a loop! If you don’t have a car, Connectabus offers a daily return service.
Most of the places to stay in Arrowtown are B&Bs or private rentals. Just outside of town is Millbrook Resort, a five star golf resort if you want something a little fancier. There are also motels, and a pub with guest rooms too.
What to do
Staying a night or 2 in Arrowtown is optional, as you can do the highlights in a day, or even a half day on your way to you next destination.
If you are just passing through, the best way to spend a couple of hours in Arrowtown is to park by the Arrow River and walk up to Buckingham Street. Here you can find a lot of the typical merino wool garments, giftware, home wares and souvenirs, but the quality of goods is higher than most tourist traps. Watch out for the Remarkable Sweet Shop, which offers free tasting of their delicious homemade fudge. Visit an ice cream shop and people watch in Buckingham Green (if you want a NZ standard try hokey pokey or boysenberry, or both!)
There are several walks along the Arrow River which are especially pretty in Autumn. You can walk for 10 minutes or a few hours, depending on your fitness and time. The Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is a memorial to the Chinese prospectors and the harsh conditions they endured. It’s not a pretty history, and it’s commendable to see the Department of Conservation has presented a very honest account of village life.
Some shops rent gold pans, allowing you to try your hand at gold panning in the Arrow River. There’s no better way to appreciate how hard these miners worked, winter and summer in what was once one of the world’s richest goldfields. Don’t expect to get rich, but a little patience and a good technique should help you find some colour in your pan. For more on the gold mining era, visit the excellent Lakes District Museum on Buckingham Street.
For such a small town there are so many places to eat! Once you have digested your ice cream and fudge, you may only have room for a meat pie from the famous Arrowtown Bakery. Flavours include Chicken & Apricot, Venison and Vegetarian, to name a few.
If you want brunch or something more substantial The Stables is a very cosy restaurant in one of Arrowtown’s oldest buildings. For a fancy dinner, visit chef Pete Gawron at Saffron. The food, wine, service and setting are all exceptional. Buy a copy of Pete’s cookbook as you leave!
If you are staying the night in Arrowtown (or the weather is rotten), you could watch a movie at the cutest movie theatre I’ve ever seen – Dorothy Browns. It’s tucked away in an alley behind Saffron and it will charm your socks off. After the movie, drop in to the Blue Door bar downstairs for a nightcap.
All the things I’ve mentioned are nice things to do, but the real joy of Arrowtown is to just be there, relaxing and soaking up the ambience. Whether you are there for a few hours or a couple of days Arrowtown will provide a nice respite from the madness of Queenstown, and the road ahead.
For more information on Arrowtown, visit arrowtown.com.